By JoAnn Guidry * Photos By Cindy Mikell
One bite and you know. This isn’t a generic, store-bought cookie. Oh, no. This is a melt-in-your-mouth decadent indulgence. Still warm from the oven, the buttery chocolate cookie filled with milk chocolate caramel chips instantly satisfies a cookie monster’s craving. On a scale of one to five, this is definitely a five-star delight, courtesy of Lori Franco, a.k.a. “The Cookie Lady.”
Growing up in Ocala, Lori’s responsibility was to come up with the dessert for the family’s evening meal.
“Everyone in my family contributed something,” she says. “My Polish grandmother made great desserts and I took baking in high school home economics classes, so that became my specialty. I always made either cakes or cookies and everyone seemed to really like them.”
Credit Lori’s own daughters, Ashley and Mandi, with keeping her on the baking path. She was always making cookies for her girls and their friends — after-school treats, birthday gifts, thank-you’s to teachers. Other mothers started calling Lori and ordering batches of cookies. Soon she became known as Lori, The Cookie Lady.
Ashley and Mandi were also picky. They didn’t like crunchy cookies, only soft, chewy ones. And Ashley, unfortunately for her, was allergic to chocolate. This forced Lori to experiment.
“I played around with several different recipes until I came up with dough that made soft cookies that stayed soft,” Lori recalls. “Then because Ashley couldn’t have chocolate, I would make vanilla dough that she could add whatever flavored chips she wanted to before they were baked. Then other people started special ordering their cookies, too.”
While thinking of a small business to go into, the name Pick A Chip popped into Lori’s head during a sleepless night.
“And I knew that was it,” she says. “That was what I wanted to do, open a cookie shop.”
In May 2005, Lori did just that and opened Pick A Chip Cookies & More. The corner shop in the Cedar Shores Plaza is a delight to the senses. The wonderful, comforting aroma of baking cookies welcomes you the minute you open the door. If you can show some restraint and not bolt for the cookie display case, you’ll appreciate the rest of the shop, too.
With its red-and-white checked curtains and tablecloths, there’s a ‘50s diner feel to the place. There’s even a counter with red bar stools to sit at and enjoy your treats. And a comfy beige couch with red accent pillows to relax on while you indulge. There are giant cookie decals on the walls and on the floor. Multi-colored tins of a variety of sizes and shapes are on shelves. Patio sliding glass doors, framed with a vinyl white picket fence, double as a pick-up window.
Pick A Chip is a place where it’s hard not to smile.
Of course, all those wonderful cookies are the biggest reason for that. Not only are the cookies delicious, but as the name implies, Pick A Chip Cookies is also about choice. Lori makes three flavors of her secret recipe dough — vanilla, chocolate, and oatmeal. She makes fresh dough every Monday, storing it in small containers (enough to make a dozen or two dozen cookies) in the freezer. Lori also sells the frozen dough for those who want to make their own cookies at home.
Pick A Chip cookies come in three sizes: regular, large, and party size. Now comes the difficult part — which chip to pick? The ever-growing menu selection of chip choices include such tasty morsels as dark chocolate, butter brickle, cinnamon, craisins, peanut butter, macadamia, butterscotch, pecan, milk chocolate caramel, and chocolate mint. You can mix them and match them, per special order, to your heart’s delight!
“Some people love to try all the different kinds of chips,” says Lori. “Other people just want a traditional chocolate chip cookie. We try to keep everyone happy.”
If the choices are just too overwhelming, Lori bakes daily special cookies that are available from the display case. For instance, Tuesday offers vanilla with peanut butter and cinnamon, as well as chocolate with rainbow. Thursday’s special is vanilla with butterscotch and chocolate with chocolate mint. The specials change from week to week, so call ahead if you’re craving a particular cookie.
Cookies can be bought individually, in snack-pack tins of six big cookies, small tins of two dozen small cookies, or large tins of four dozen small cookies. And hang on to those tins! You can bring them back for a refill at a discounted price.
Here’s where the “And More” part in the shop’s name comes in. In addition to doing decorator cookies and cakes for special occasions, Pick A Chip also hosts small birthday parties.
“My daughters were always baking with me when they were little,” says Lori. “So I thought this would be a unique kind of birthday experience. The kids get to dress up in a chef’s hat and apron and decorate a big cookie. We also play some games. It’s a lot of fun.”
A happy, personable woman who’s content in her kitchen, Lori wants people to think of her shop as a place where you can come “for a great homemade cookie.”
Mission accomplished. But there’s just one caveat. When you’ve eaten that last cookie, at the bottom of each tin is a sticker: “Uh Oh, All Gone!”
Uh Oh, indeed!
10 Tips for Perfect Cookies
1. Inaccurate measurements spoil many a cookie. Always measure the baking soda, baking powder, salt, and especially flour accurately. Before measuring the flour, stir it with a spoon. Then lightly spoon flour into your measuring cup until it is heaped above the rim. Don’t shake or tap the cup to settle the flour, or you will have more flour than needed.
2. When you mix the flour to the moist ingredients, stir just until blended. Be careful not to over mix or beat your cookie dough, unless you like tough cookies!
3. Get ingredients ready in advance. Some ingredients, such as butter, may need to be at room temperature. If you’re mixing with an electric mixer, use butter at room temperature, but if you’re mixing by hand, you will want to soften the butter in the microwave to the consistency of mayonnaise.
4. When baking cookies, choose light-colored, dull-finished, heavy-gauge cookie sheets. Old cookie sheets that are dark can make the bottom of the cookies overly done.
5. For dough that needs to be rolled out, refrigerate the dough for a couple hours (or overnight). Use a rolling pin and lightly flour your work surface. If you use too much flour, the dough will absorb it and become tough and dry.
6. If you’re cutting out cookie designs, dip your cookie cutters in flour to prevent sticking or tearing of the cookies. Cut the cookie shapes as close as possible to lessen scraps.
7. Always cool the pan before baking another batch. A warm pan causes the dough to melt which can cause overspreading, deformed cookies, or altered baking times.
8. To check cookies for doneness, press down lightly in the middle to see if it bounces back. Bake sliced cookies until the edges are firm and the bottoms are just lightly browned.
9. Place cookies on wire racks to cool evenly, so the bottoms don’t get soggy.
10. Store cookies in air-tight containers such as tins, cookie jars with tight-fitting lids, or zipper-type bags to keep fresh.
Pick A Chip Cookies & More
Cedar Shores Plaza
3535 SE Maricamp Road, Suite 1010
Friday & Saturday, 1-9pm
Closed Sunday & Monday
By JoAnn Guidry * Photos By Cindy Mikell